Plastic straws aren’t recyclable. In the United States alone, about 390 million of them are wasted every day according to Get Green Now. Often made from polypropylene, a byproduct of petroleum, it takes an incredible amount of energy and natural resources to manufacture these straws. Worse yet, we can’t recycle plastic straws due to their size and weight. In the best-case scenario, they end up in landfills, lasting 200 years before degrading down into smaller pieces. But no matter where they end up, they will never disappear from Earth. Sadly, an incredible number of them end up in our oceans, killing marine life and birds at an alarming rate.
Terrible for the environment, straws are also bad for your body as the Washington Post notes, “causing gas and bloating, increasing the likelihood of cavities, and leading to excess sugar intake and wrinkles around your mouth.”
Emerging science also demonstrates that toxins can leach out from plastics into our drinks. Acidic beverages — the drinks we often consume with straws — release even more toxins from the plastic. These include soda, lemonade, orange juice, and cranberry juice, along with limes and lemons in alcoholic drinks.
The best alternative to plastic straws is to avoid using them entirely. Encourage the bars and restaurants you visit to only offer straws upon request. As an experiment, we vowed to abstain from straws for a month. Strange at first, it soon became an easy habit to adopt. We were shocked that we felt less bloated — that excess air you suck in with each sip from a straw quickly adds up. We urge you to try this first before anything else. However, if you continue to prefer straws or require a straw due to a physical limitation, we’ve compiled the list below of eco-friendly alternatives:
- Compostable Straws
Marvin Stone invented the original paper straw in 1888. His invention was the go-to choice until plastic varieties became the standard after the 1960s. But there are still many paper varieties on the market today, including Aardvark, which sells durable, compostable paper tubes based on Stone’s original patent. Last September, Aardvark teamed up with ocean advocacy group Lonely Whale Foundation for Strawless in Seattle, the first-ever citywide takeover to eliminate plastic straws.
Compostable straws work well if you like the convenience of something disposable or plan to serve drinks at a party or gathering. Other choices include straws made from wheat stems (yes a straw) or corn bioplastic (although this material is best composted in a commercial composting facility). One restaurant in Bristol, England even pairs drinks with Bucatini pasta, a spaghetti-like noodle with a hole running through the middle.
- Bamboo straws
Reusable straws are ideal for sipping beverages at home or when you’re on the go. One of the best options is bamboo, as these all-natural straws are usually made without pesticides, chemicals or dyes. Bamboo is also a versatile and rapidly renewable crop. Since it’s a natural material, bamboo straws are not dishwasher-safe and must be hand-washed. You also want the straw to be bone dry after cleaning and stored in a well-ventilated place to prevent mold. Check out Straw Free, which even sells an extra-wide, boba-friendly straw so you’ll be able to sip bubble tea sans plastic.
- Metal straws
Unlike bamboo, which might wear and tear over time, metal straws are made to last. I own dishwasher-safe, stainless steel straws from Bunkoza, which comes with a handy pouch and natural wool cleaner. I love them because they keep my drinks cool, although they did clink against my teeth when I wasn’t used to them at first. If you don’t like the idea of toting around a metal tube, the Santa Fe-based team at Final Straw have also invented the world’s first collapsible stainless steel straw that you can conveniently attach to your keychain.
- Glass straws
Another eco-friendly, long-lasting option is glass. Although these can break or shatter if you are not careful, the advantage is you can see through them, so you can make sure they are squeaky clean. Another cool thing about glass straws is that they come in all kinds of colors and whimsical designs. Straw some has advice on the perfect glass straw for you.
- Silicone straws
Unlike metal or glass, soft and bendy silicone straws don’t clink your teeth, making them ideal for kids and straw-biters. Softy Straws are made from food grade, BPA-free silicone and can handle extreme temperatures, so they work with hot drinks and can withstand the dishwasher.
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